HELENA — Advocates say dozens of Montana service members remain unaccounted for, as prisoners of war or missing in action. On Friday, people gathered in Helena to ensure that those servicemembers aren’t forgotten.
Friday was the 43rd National POW/MIA Recognition Day. On a solemn, rainy morning, volunteers in Helena read out the names of 53 service members who have yet to be returned, during a ceremony at the Lewis & Clark County Veterans’ Memorial in Memorial Park.
“We want to make sure it stays on top of the priority list, so the rest of America knows what these people gave up – and what their families gave up – when they didn’t come home,” said Jim Troiola, national commander of the American Legion, who took part in the event while visiting Montana this week.
Ray Read, director of the Montana Military Museum, said the full list included 61 names – eight from World War II, 28 from the Korean War, 22 from the Vietnam War and three from the Cold War.
Of those, eight servicemembers have since had their remains identified. Read said they continue to read those names to highlight those who have finally been recovered.
Montana State Auditor Troy Downing, an Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan, was among those who read out the names.
“We need to always keep those who fought for us in our thoughts, and always fight to get those not accounted for home,” he said.
Troiola, who was elected to his position only two weeks ago, says his goal as national commander is to visit every state to highlight the Legion’s programs. Montana was his second stop, after Louisiana.
“The veterans all around this country, including Montana, are actually special to me,” he said. “They do so much for our communities, especially through our veterans service organizations.”
Troiola is in Montana promoting the “Be the One” initiative, a peer-to-peer program in which Legion posts will serve as resource centers, providing assistance for fellow veterans in hopes of preventing suicide. He also visited the Montana State Capitol, the Montana National Guard and Fort Harrison VA Medical Center.
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